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Columbia Journal

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Using new media to build the movements for social change

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2011 First published in Columbia Journal September 2011

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have grown over the past few years to world-wide popularity, offering hundreds of millions of users a way to stay in touch with friends and family, sharing photos and videos and more.

These tools can be used to publicize events or more, but despite their vast popularity, most users are a bit vague on how to get beyond posting ‘What’s on your mind’ (Facebook) or ‘What’s happening’ (Twitter).

The BC Federation of Labour has created a free, online course aimed at helping union members take social media tools to the next level, the Union Activist New Media Bootcamp (http://act.bcfed.ca/new-media-bootcamp-for-union-activists/).

Free, though registration (name, email, union, and postal code) is required, the course consists of a series of online videos, and promises to help learners ‘grow’ the number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans, get a website or blog to the top of Google, and to teach best practices through interviews with union communicators and new media activists.

It consists of a 15-minute introductory video clip, six modules - each consisting of an online video clip of 45 minutes (released in a series throughout the summer), and an online discussion forum. (Several bonus modules were promised, with the content not yet revealed as I write). The modules:

•    Facebook Pages
•    Generating Traffic
•    Using Twitter
•    YouTube and Video
•    Email Engagement and Lit Building
•    Facebook and Google Advertising

Comments and discussion follow each module. Scrolling through them, it quickly becomes apparent that the course has been found valuable by activists world-wide, not just in BC; apparently it has quickly become the most popular course offered by the BC Fed.

Kudos to the BC Fed and particularly to Jason Mann for making this course available.

Search giant Google is looking to join the social network movement, with its new Google+ service. In some respects, G+ seems like a combination of the best of Twitter and Facebook, with some unique features of its own. Like Twitter, you can follow someone – seeing what they post – without having that person see what you post – though they might choose to follow your posts. Like Facebook, you can post comments lengthier than Twitter’s 140-character cut-off and responses to your comment appear as a conversation below your initial post.

Unlike either Twitter or Facebook, Google+ makes it easy to organize people into sets – G+ calls them ‘circles’ – and to send what you share to only some of your ‘circles’. A teenager might want to share photos from last night’s party with friends but not with parents, for instance. I might want circles for people with whom I play music, for political colleagues, and for people interested in technology. Some people might be in multiple circles.

Being able to control who sees your posts is a very powerful feature; you can do it on Facebook (by creating groups), but few people have figured it out. Google+ makes it easy.

Another nice feature: hangouts. A G+ hangout is a group video call, set up on the fly with up to ten G+ users. Video conferencing has been around for a long time, but its never been this easy to get up and running.

Google+ is a work in progress – in beta, as the tech-folks call it. To join, you need an invitation. (Email me for one). As a result, membership is currently a few tens of millions, compared to the multiple hundreds of million on Facebook. And that means that new users may feel like it’s a bit of a ghost town – though many early users are claiming to be pleased with the quality of interactions.

And it’s not yet open to organizations – just to individual users who are told to use their real names. So if you want to use it for your organization, you’ll need to do it as an individual member.

Coming to Vancouver, September 19-23 – Social Media Week. Vancouver is one of a dozen cities world-wide (Beirut to Buenos Aires, Milan to Moscow) with events that week. Events range from information sessions, discussion groups and forums, industry-focused ‘mash-ups’, to parties.

Among them: the Accountability Summit looks at ethics, legal implications, and transparency. A ‘Women in Social Media Mash-up’ focuses on how women are using social media to connect, collaborate, lead and lobby. Other sessions focus on journalism, open government, mental health, and the environment.

For more information: http://socialmediaweek.org/schedule/

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